"Wenabozho and the Butterflies"
|Visit the website to view details of the ring set|
Today's story is part of a series titled Stories from the Land of Crane and Turtle, featuring traditional Anishinaabe stories that encompass the unique world view and cultural perspective of the Anishinaabeg Peoples.
The story features a set of wedding rings and a graphic illustration by myself and several acrylic paintings by the late Carl Ray and by Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau).
A Dancing Butterfly Shows Us the Way
The title as well as the design of the wedding bands are inspired by a memengwaa (butterfly) who lives in Mishigami Aki, the Land of the Great Lake, and who, on a beautiful sunlit day, out of the blue, landed on my shoulder, her gentle spirit filling my heart with many bright colors before she spread her wings and disappeared into the vast sky, and it is she to whom I dedicated this story.
Before I tell you more about the design symbolism of the rings, let’s start by exploring the meaning and significance that memengwaag, or memengwaanhyag as my Anishinaabe relatives who live farther to the east call them, had in the hearts and minds of gete-aya'aag, our ancestors. These beautiful People, called Ojibwe or Ojibweg by many, have dwelled for at least a thousand years Anishinaabe Aki, the Heart Land of the Peoples of Gaa-zaaga'iganikaag (the Place Of Many Lakes)...
|Acrylic on canvas dyptich by the late Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau)|
The Power of Enchantment
“When Aki, the world, was still young, the beings of all animal Nations were created. GICHI-MANIDOO gifted them with a body, a shadow, and a soul. But they still had no powers. One day, GICHI-MANIDOO summoned all animal Nations to come to the high mountain where its abode was. This is where the animals received their gifts of power.
First, GICHI-MANIDOO gave migizi the bald eagle strong wings and a keen sense of sight. Then, GICHI-MANIDOO gifted makwa the bear with courage and strength. Then GICHI-MANIDOO gave nenookaasi (hummingbird) and memengwaa (butterfly) the power of hovering and fluttering and sublimity, mystery, and divine presence. And to this day, nenookasiwag the hummingbirds, as do memengwaag the butterflies, display one of the greatest of all powers: the power of enchantment..."
The Creation of Turtle Island
At the same time there lived an aadizookaan, a supernatural being, residing alone in the sky. Her name was Giizhigookwe, or Sky Woman. GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery of Life, pitying her loneliness, sent a male aadizookaan to Sky Woman to keep her company. Animikii (Thunder), for that was his name, traveled to the sky lodge of Giizhigookwe and from the union that took place were born the Anishinaabeg (a twin brother and sister), whom she planned to lower on the back of a giant Mikinaak (snapping turtle).
|"Recreation": acrylic painting by the late Carl Ray|
The Nurturing of the Twins
|"Heavenly Twins Give Gift Of Life", acrylic painting by the late Miskwaabik Animikii|
Did the flies and musquitos keep the abinoojiiyensag awake? Animosh asked Asabikeshikwe (spider woman) for help – or, if he would not find her at home he himself would jump and snap at their tormentors until the abinoojiiyensag nearly split their sides laughing. Did the niizhoodeg indicate they wanted to be amused? Animosh would do all kinds of hilarious tricks to keep them busy. He would roll around on the earth rolling his eyes and wagging his tongue, then sit up and wag his tail. And he would tickle them by licking their noses, and he did so as long as it took to make them shriek with happy laughter. Then, when the abinoojiiyensag were finally quiet again he would lie down beside them and cover his eyes with his paws, and rest until he was needed again.
But after a while it became clear that something was wrong with the niizhoodeg. This time it was Makwa the bear, worried about his two little protégés, who called upon all the awesi’ag to congregate and sit around the infants.
“Aaniin nisayedog ashi nimisedog gaye! (Hello brothers, and you too sisters!)" Makwa said, "Like you, I am worried about the abinoojiiyensag because they cannot walk! Sure, they look strong and are obviously happy and having a good time with our brother Animosh, but alas! They cannot run and play like our own young! What do you suggest we can do to help them?"
After a moment of thoughtful silence Ma’iingan spoke first.“Atayaa! Geget gi debwe! (indeed! You are really speaking the truth!). The abinoojiiyensag are definitely not weak! They do eat the meat that I bring them each morning at daybreak."
Onijaani, the soft-spoken doe, calmly agreed with Ma’iingan.“Debwe, the niizhoodeg certainly drink the fresh milk that I bring them daily."
Then Amik the beaver and Wazask the muskrat exclaimed in one voice: "Tayaa! Geget gi debwe! Good golly, this is certainly true! The abinoojiiyensag definitely have a way of waving their arms and legs with great strength as they are being bathed! They even splash us until we are soaked and losing our temper! Then they laugh at us for being cranky and continue waving their legs and arms about as if nothing happened!"
Hereupon Giigoonh the fish quietly chuckled, “Enh, aahaaw, Amik and Wazashk are right eh! The Anishinaabe niizhoodeg are good students, they do exactly like I taught them to do heh heh!"
The Great Teacher Wenabozho and the First Butterflies
|"Wenabozho Telling Stories"|
illustration by Zhaawano
These enchanting beings, whom no creature or spirit dwelling the Universe had laid eyes on before, fluttered gaily around, gracefully dancing in the wind, before they eventually alighted on Trembling Tail’s shoulders. In the twinkle of an eye Wenabozho saw himself surrounded by swirling clouds of continuously changing, kaleidoscopic colors! These were the nitami-memengwaag, the first butterlies…
|"Butterfly" by the late Carl Ray|
|"Children See Dreams," acrylic painting by the late Miskwaabik Animikii|
And this valuable lesson, if I may aid, is exactly what Waaban-anangokwe, the gifted woman from Mishigami Aki who inspired me to relate to you this tale, teaches her own children and grandchildren, and because of this I dedicate the beautiful story of Wenabozho and the Butterlies to her...
|Go to our website to view details of this ring set|
About the wedding bands
This capriciously stylized road with seven side roads or digressions - an age-old symbol of the Midewiwin Life Road -, depicted in the exteriors of the wedding bands, symbolizes the life path of two persons who share their joys and sorrows with each other. The dancing menengwaag on the insides of the rings show the two life companions the way through the curves of Life and guide them around pitfalls and barriers that they individually and as a couple encounter along the way. But above all, the dancing Menengwaag remind them how important it is not just to know how to walk, but how to walk together – and even run together (strive hard) if need be in order to keep their relationship healthy and strong and – in a broader sense - to keep their family and their People well.
> Click here to read my next story: "Zhoomin and the Vision of the Dancing Corn Plants."
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About the author:
Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem of his ancestors from Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist, a writer, and a designer of Native American jewelry and wedding rings, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists.